When I was a kid, I wanted to be Cher. Well into adulthood, I have yet to change my mind. From her early days as the exotic half of Sonny & Cher to her stunning reinvention as an award-winning movie star — and her poster-child status for women with independent hearts, lively love lives and bold fashion choices throughout — Cherilyn Sarkisian LaPiere Bono Allman has always been my kind of dame.
Turns out, she comes from a long line of them.
I talked with the entertainment icon for her can’t-miss Lifetime special Dear Mom, Love Cher and discovered a side of her I’d yet to see: devoted daughter of singer/actress Georgia Holt, and member of a fiercely proud matriarchy that never considered letting hard luck or the wrong man slow them down.
Dear Mom began to take shape when Cher’s sister, actress Georganne LaPiere Bartylak, called to say that Holt had found the master tapes for a recording she had made with Elvis’ band in the ’70s but never released. The news gave Cher an idea for the perfect gift for her mom’s 86th birthday.
“I fixed it all up and then I thought, ‘I’ll have her sing it and then talk to her about it,’” Cher says of the album that will make its commercial debut later this year and feature a duet with Cher that the two perform on the special. “As I was editing it, my agent came in and said, ‘This is too good. You can’t just let this be a birthday present.’”
Throughout the hour, a relaxed and funny Cher, Georganne and Georgia swap stories of Holt’s hardscrabble upbringing and the trio’s nomadic existence as their beautiful, musically gifted mom skated at the edges of fame and married and divorced six times, while raising her girls in a devoted circle of artsy female pals.
“Mom always told me that you didn’t sleep with guys during that time period — you just married them,” Cher explains. “But most of the time that we lived together as a family, it was maybe 50-50 the amount of time that men were there. We never lived a traditional life; I didn’t even know what that was! My best friend’s parents lived a traditional life and I remember thinking, ‘Oh my God, how do these people bear this?! I’d rather watch paint dry!’ And I was maybe 7 when I thought this!”
But their freewheeling existence didn’t mean that Holt was a lenient parent. Her daughters reveal that minor infractions could incur her wrath, while major screw-ups (including Cher’s teenage turn as an accidental car thief) generally garnered an exasperated “I hope you learned your lesson.”
“It was always a ‘learn your lesson’ story, I swear to God!” Cher howls. “I learned my lesson a thousand times, about things that she didn’t talk about, thank God! I won’t let her go on Twitter because of it, because I would have to leave the universe. I would have to pack a bag and leave the universe!”
The best lesson Cher says she did learn was how to make it on her own after leaving the man she’d been with for more than a decade, who’d looked at the teenage dreamer and saw a star. “Once I left Sonny, I was finally on my own and calling my own shots,” Cher says. “But it took me a while to figure out how to do that, because I kind of went from 19 to 27 and didn’t learn anything. It took me a while to find my strength. And that’s the thing in my family that I think is most important: Everyone is real stubborn and headstrong and ends up doing pretty much what they want to do. No matter what society thinks!”
Dear Mom, Love Cher premieres Monday, May 6 at 10/9CT on Lifetime.